Press "Enter" to skip to content

Students at Mililani High are motivated for change

HONOLULU — A bill pushed by a group of Mililani High School students died at the state Legislature, but that didn’t kill their enthusiasm to get involved in state government as teenage advocates.

House Bill 2083 would have required the state Department of Education to establish a program to ensure that 30 percent of school food consists of local produce by 2030, while also launching a pilot program for plant-based meals at Mililani High School in the 2025-26 academic year.

Jayda Sakoda, 16, Miki Haitsuka, 16, and Sunissa Domingo, 17, felt compelled to submit written testimony while taking an advanced placement (AP) environmental science class that taught them about the environmental effects of industrial agriculture.

Even though HB 2083 died in April, Haitsuka said, “It wasn’t discouraging that the law didn’t pass,” and she plans to testify and “go through this process again because of the drive that I still want these changes to be made.”

State Rep. Trish La Chica (D, Waipio-Mililani) applauded the students from her district for supporting the bill she introduced.

“This was really something that my community championed this year,” said La Chica at a meeting after the bill got deferred. “It was a good opportunity for them to get involved in the legislative process and see that their efforts made it all the way, close to the end.”

Mililani High School science teacher Jennifer Kuwahara encouraged and advised her students — most of them juniors and seniors and some sophomores — to be a part of the legislative process after hearing their concerns during class.

“For AP environmental science, we started talking about the impact of industrial agriculture on our environment, and a lot of questions were coming up by the students,” Kuwahara said, “like, ‘What is the government doing about this?’ and ‘Why isn’t the government doing anything?’”

Kuwahara couldn’t ignore her students’ questions, and decided the best route was to allow them to write letters to legislators who represent them.

“One of the parents spoke with Trish La Chica, and she agreed and offered to write a bill in honor of the students’ letters,” Kuwahara said.

Sakoda, a junior, said it was “really eye-opening to firsthand experience the whole legislative process. It gave me something to work for, in the sense that I could just really speak up about something that means a lot to me.”

Sakoda said it’s important for lawmakers to keep young people informed because “eventually, we’re going to be the ones to lead the way and start new things.”

She also said that being a part of the legislative process showed students how things work in real life.

Haitsuka wrote in testimony that “it is incredibly important that this bill passes to move towards the betterment of our land. Increasing the amount of local foods in school meals will help develop healthier habits in Hawai‘i students and provide them with more nutritious foods, rather than the industrialized, frozen food that is imported from the mainland.”

Haitsuka told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that the experience of testifying was “nerve-wracking, but this is something I’m very passionate about and to say I want changes, I have to go talk to people.”

Domingo also testified before the Legislature for the first time in support of HB 2083. She described the experience as “exciting,” particularly because she was passionate about the topics she learned in class.

“It was frustrating to know that there are politicians who don’t know what we learned in this class and are very against the bill,” she said. “There was this one politician who flat out said he disagreed with the bill because he was a pro-­carnivore, which was pretty interesting.”

Earlier in the legislative session — even before HB 2803 was introduced — Kuwahara invited legislators to Mililani High School classrooms to speak with students on topics addressing food systems, food security, industrial agriculture, sustainability, climate change and health.

Domingo said a state senator who visited “pushed our concerns aside” and opposed the idea of “meatless Mondays,” claiming that “the boys would disagree with it.”

The senator’s visit pushed Domingo to further advocate for HB 2083 because she was concerned that other lawmakers might share the same view.

Haitsuka was disappointed to see lawmakers reading scripts prepared by others and dismissing students and farmers who testified about what they considered important.

“We’re taking time out of class periods and out of our afternoons to do things,” Haitsuka said. “We prepare so much, and we write all these things that we’re so passionate about and meaningful to us.”

While all three students expressed disappointment at the bill’s failure, they all said they are motivated to become more involved in the Legislature in 2025, especially since they gained familiarity with the process.

Kuwahara said the experience allowed her students to use their voices for the first time.

“It’s important to flip the script,” she said. “We can’t always have top-down leadership telling us what to do.”
Source: The Garden Island

Be First to Comment

    Leave a Reply